Mortemain was a black berkshire dumbo with a head spot.
Mortemain came to me with Chase
The original owner had two rats which she had bought from a 'breeder' located online. When she'd gone to pick them up, she'd seen the rats being kept in horrible breeding racks, such as the kind people who breed rats for snake food use. Indeed, the 'breeder' confirmed that these rats were intended as snake food. The owner took her two, but went back to the premises soon after to take on two more as she just couldn't live with the idea of them being snake food.
However, she realised soon after that she couldn't cope with 4 rats, so wanted to rehome two of them.
Both Mortemain and Chase were lovely boys, its horrific that someone would think they were only good for snake food. I can't imagine these lovely animals being used for that purpose, or them being kept in those awful breeding racks. Im so glad they were rescued. Its just tragic to think thousands more rats have to endure that same treatment and fate every day.
Mortemain was one of those rats that showed me something new, even after 13 years.
Shortly after arriving here, he began to present with abscesses. Its not uncommon for a rat to get the odd abscess, especially if they've been scuffling during intros, so at first I was not too concerned.
But one abscess turned into two, which turned into three. Not one of them seemed to want to heal, and more were popping up seemingly every day. I had Mortemain under vet care and on baytril by this point, and had begun a routine of daily actions to try and get rid of them.
Some of the things I tried include:
Bathing the areas several times a day in salt water
Daily baths in hibiscrub
Manuka honey applied directly to the wounds
Antirobe capsules popped open and the powder applied topically
Co-enzyme Q10 capsules in his food for immunity
Pomegranite juice, again, for immunity
I have dealt with many abscesses over the years, and even the worst of them would have been knocked out 10 times over by now with the above treatments.
But these failed to heal, and seemed to just spread and spread. Whatever was going on with him, it was not anything I'd seen or heard of before. On talking to many other rat owners and breeders, it seemed no-one else had experienced anything like this either.
Infection was spreading through Mortemain's body and had gotten into his foot, causing the skin to die and the bone to be exposed. As well as this, the end of his tail was dying off too.
I made another vet appointment, though I knew he'd only tell me to carry on with the baytril and the daily regime. This is, indeed, what he advised. He said the toes and the tail were not priority and would likely drop off themselves with no issue.
By this time, Mortemain was seperated from his group, as I suspected that whatever it was, it was contagious.
Of the 7 rats he lived with at the time, 5 developed abscess issues to some degree.
But none of them were anything like Mortemain's. The other rats would get one, or maybe two, and with the above treatments, these would heal within a day or so. All these rats made full recoveries, while Mortemain continued to have issues.
He was also very miserable on his own, so I relented and allowed his brother, Chase, to go into isolation with him. I knew I was probably then exposing him to the same problem, but I figured that they'd already lived together during this outbreak anyway, and Chase had already been exposed. It wasn't an ideal situation, but Mortemain was so miserable alone, and it was a case of trying to weigh up the risks.
Sure enough, within 2 or 3 days, Chase began presenting the same types of large abscess, though in lesser numbers.
I started him, too, on baytril and began subjecting him to the same daily baths and treatments as Mortemain, even though his problem was not as severe.
Here is a picture of Mortemain's back after his Hibiscrub bath:
The picture actually does not do justice to how bad they were, or how many there were. The smaller ones you can see were actually the ones I was least concerned about. There was another huge one under his front leg, and another on the left hand side of his bum.
There came a point when I was really disheartened with the situation. No other rat people I'd spoken to had seen anything like it, all the usual abscess treatments that people advised didn't seem to make any difference, the vet had told me to simply carry on doing what I was already doing, and all the while, Mortemain and Chase were getting worse.
There came a point where I really wondered whether Mortemain, at least, would have to be euthanized for this issue. You never expect something like an abscess to be life-threatening, but they were literally all over one side of his body, and continually oozing. I would clean one up, remove all pus, and the next morning, it would be back even worse than before, and often with another beside it. These are only small animals, and they were running out of body!
However, for reasons I am still unsure of, one day they both just seemed to begin to heal.
This was probably a good three weeks after the real problems began, and I don't believe I'd done anything different, but one morning the abscesses just looked dry and had begun to scab over and shrink.
I cut out the hibiscrub baths at this point, as I thought leaving the wounds dry might be better. I would just douse them in Dermisol solution a few times a day to get rid of the dead tissue.
The abscesses continued to heal, as did Mortemain's foot. He was missing a bone in one toe, and the bone in his other was still exposed at this point, but very clearly healing over. The largest abscess he had, which was just under his arm and probably about the size of a 50p piece, shrunk to half its size in 24 hours.
The boys continued to do very well, and I was much more happy with their condition. I no longer feared that they would have to be euthanized.
Theories on what it could have been ranged from MRSA to ringworm. They were treated for ringworm, and given topical treatments proven effective against MRSA, so who knows what it was that finally sorted it out. Perhaps it just ran its course.
It still baffles me, however, why these two rats had these problems so severely.
5 of the 7 rats they lived with all developed exactly the same kinds of abscess, at around the same time, indicating they had also 'caught' what Chase and Mortemain had.
But those 5 rats managed to heal up without much intervention; they weren't even given antibiotics, just the odd wipe down with salt water. But they healed pretty much on their own, and fast.
Why these two boys had such severe issues, I cannot say, though I suspect it was due to their breeding. Rats bred for snake food do not tend to be bred to a good standard of health, after all, they are intended to be killed fairly early on in life. Thusly, there is no point in someone who breeds rats for snake food to focus any time or effort onto ensuring they have good long-term health, or strong immune systems; they are intended to die long before this would ever be an issue.
This is the only difference that would set Mortemain and Chase aside from the other 5 rats they lived with who did manage to heal up easily.
Mortemain had no more problems with abscesses in his life, though they had taken a toll on his body which would be permanent. He had scarring, areas of tighter skin where they had healed over, and was missing a toe, and the end of his tail. His fur never really came back properly over some of the worst areas, so although he ended up a healthy rat, he always looked a complete mess!
Mortemain began to slow down as he got older, become less enthusiastic about life. He would still eat, but became quite lazy and disinterested. One day, he didn't look very well, nothing specific, just a general vibe I got from him. I took him indoors to have a cuddle and see if I could work out what was troubling him, and he was very lethargic.
When he turned and bit a chunk out of my finger, without any warning or without me even making contact with him, I knew something was wrong.
He had never, ever bitten before. Rats don't randomly bite their owners, unless in pain.
He was booked in to be put to sleep there and then. The vet agreed it was the correct choice, and said his earlier health problems had likely taken too much of a toll on his body.
I will always remember Mortemain, because he taught me so much. I hope to never those sorts of problems again on a rat.
Why Mortemain? After Costas Mandylor's character in the movie 'Nobody'.